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Why isn't your menu online?

Like many restaurants these days, The Southern updates its menus on a seasonal basis, with smaller changes in between. What sets the Chicago-based eatery apart are the regularly updated menus on its mobile-friendly website. “Having our current menu online is crucial to what we’re doing here,” says Evan Traub, general manager of The Southern.  

Menus are among the first things that a customer looks at when trying to decide which restaurant to visit. Restaurants with outdated menus on their websites—or even worse, no menus at all—take the risk of being passed over by would-be diners. Especially if the restaurant down the street has its menu online.

According to eMarketer, nearly two-thirds of mobile searches for restaurants last year resulted in a meal being purchased within an hour of the search. That makes having current menus online today’s equivalent of posting them outside your front entrance.

Born out of a dramatic concept change three years ago, The Southern is a chef-driven “kickass bar” featuring, you guessed it, Southern-inspired food. “We have the same owner and chef, but the menus changed drastically,” explains Traub.  Executive chef Cary Taylor leverages his Georgia boy background to turn out a seasonal selection of high-quality “laid-back” food, not only for the restaurant but for the Southern Mac ‘N Cheese food truck as well.

And it’s not only the food menus that change seasonally. “When I first came here, there weren’t a lot of Southern drinks,” says Traub, “but now we have some unique and small-batch bourbon, like Pappy Van Winkle. We do a lot of great classic cocktails with our own twist, like the Maple Bacon Manhattan, and have one of the best Sazeracs in the city.“

With seasonally-changing menus in both food and beverage, being able to update them on the restaurant’s website with little effort and cost is advantageous. The ability to simultaneously update them across social media, review sites, newspaper listings and reservation systems is a huge coup, which prompted Traub to join Locu.

“People aren’t as apt to search the Web to find us. They’re searching on their phone through the OpenTable or Yelp apps,” says Traub.

Locu is a platform that allows restaurateurs to upload, design, edit, and publish their menus across their own websites, mobile apps, and social media pages in real time. Traub likes it because it allows him to make even the smallest changes in-house, and across all his menus at once. The basic service is free, and addition features and assistance are available for a $25 monthly fee.

“If Chef has changed the desserts for tonight, instead of me calling a website designer or paying an extra fee for the service, we’re able to utilize the Locu widget and automatically push the changes out to our website, Facebook, OpenTable and everywhere else,” explains Traub. “If I opt to ‘promote’ the change, the system automatically creates a little post that I can edit and push to other forums like Facebook or Twitter.”

While Yelp creates “visual menus” by aggregating the content and photos from their reviewers, the downside is that the restaurant cannot change or alter the data. “People come in looking for a dish they specifically saw on the menu there, and are disappointed when it’s not available,” explains Traub. “That doesn’t help anybody.”

Since Locu made their API available last September, OpenTable, TripAdvisor and Citysearch have partnered with the service to bring live restaurant menus to their users. A number of newspapers and other publishers are using Locu as well. It’s a mobile-forward move that connects the dots between would-be diners browsing their websites and mobile apps and the restaurants they are actively researching.

Though Traub hasn't heard any guest response or seen any increase since he started using the system, he's more than happy with the labor reduction it benefits to the business. "It's very easy for us to update everything, and I have enjoyed the ability to handle even small corrections in house," he says.

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